Citizens of Donostia to the World Tourism Organization: "We don't agree"

  • The Bizitza da handiena ('Life is the Greatest Thing') campaign was held in Donostia from 19th to 27th May. 63 citizens' movements and trades unions joined in with the "social struggle week" and proclaimed the need for a "citizens' capital". Different trenches have made up a single front. The anti-tourism protest got its message across, the World Tourism Organization holding its highest level meeting in city during the same week as the protest movement.

Maddi Txintxurreta @mtxintxurreta
2018ko maiatzaren 30a
(Photo: Dani Blanco)

The Bizitza da handiena campaign has shown a city behind the idyllic postcard version of it and, using scarce resources, tried to project a different type of city, using a clear, simple message: "We don't agree".

Getting 63 stakeholders to sign up to the campaign was no small feat: as a member stated at the latest assembly, there have been many attempts to form a group like this in the Gipuzkoan city over the last 30 years, and this is the only one which has actually taken shape. "This is real: we've built it from the bottom up, and here we are", was how it was put. Until now everybody has fought from their own trench, but sometimes suspicion can bring forces together. They say that the "Basque Regime" is their common enemy: the people who take unilateral decisions in their cold offices, far from citizens in the street; the people who want to build the underground and the incinerator; the people who want more hotels in the city; the people who laid out a red carpet for the World Tourism Organization…

Based on civil disobedience and non-violence movements, life itself has been placed at the centre, with the objective of holding a "social struggle week". A week with innumerable acts of civil disobedience, conferences and concerts. A week for equality and participation, for replanting citizen power and growth. Collective empowerment.

The First Surprise in June

The social struggle week began on the morning of 19th May at the door of an eight-floor building which was finished in 2002. The building is covered in dirt, abandoned. It is the Spanish Social Security General Treasury, but there have been spider's webs on it for years now. It is an abandoned building in the heart of the city, emptied in 2002 and, since being sold for 10 million Euros on 29th September, 2009, empty ever since.

Over the last year and a half there have been numerous illegal evictions in Donostia but, according to the law, a ten-day warning has to be given before evicting people from a publicly owned building, and Bizitza da handiena was a one-week initiative which occupied what they called the "Citizens' House" for eight nights.  Many people lived in the occupied building. They made citizens' meals there for whatever anybody was prepared to pay, and took it in turns to do the cleaning, because there is no struggle without work.

The assembly was the most important daily duty. They met every afternoon in squares around the city, evaluating what had happened each day and taking decisions collectively. A consensus about the way assemblies were to be held was written down in order to make decision-making as horizontal as possible.

(Images: Dani Blanco)

The management of daily tasks was also organized in working groups: Looking after money, communication, making different types of bodies at ease, cooking, running the assemblies and the building's structure. The Bizitza da handiena campaign, as well as trying to attract all sorts of bodies and identities, has provided the newly arrived with information, avoiding those who might have felt artificially included for feeling less at ease than the organisers themselves.

Street initiatives: Simple but Powerful

They planned a whole week of activities, using public spaces and recovering the true meaning of the word 'public' by taking over the street.

May 19th, the day the building was occupied, was spent working together under the Bizitza da handiena slogan. With the assembly and meeting place for the struggle prepared, they carried out many different activities over the week. They were activities prepared by people attached to the campaign:

Marches against shops which open on Sundays; digging up Kontxa beach in protest against the underground; a fanzine workshop; a meeting in solidarity with the Catalan prisoners; identifying CCTV cameras in the city; a pensioners' assembly; distributing hundreds of cards for free coffee and croissants in front of a café which refuses to pay several of its employees; sealing rubbish bins "to show how little is recycled in Donostia"; conferences…

The Basque Government has Armour-Plated Tourism

The reason to hold the Bizitza da handiena protests this week was the visit from representatives of the World Tourism Organization, and one of the campaign's objectives was for those representatives to realise that many of the city's people are opposed to the current model of tourism. Donostia is a member of the Southern European Cities' Anti-Touristification network, and local members were in charge of making sure that the people at the congress received written copies of the manifesto drawn up in collaboration with other cities. They did not want to accept that document while they were at the Kursaal auditorium.

The Basque Autonomous Police's response to anti-touristification initiatives was harsh. They identified five people who put up “WTO Go Home” banners, and started to attack peaceful demonstrators using their truncheons. During the struggle, the officers knocked two people to the ground and then arrested them.

But the police's behaviour did not intimidate the Bizitza da handiena campaign or the struggle against touristification. Hundreds of people came to support the BiziLagunEkin demonstration held on Friday afternoon, and all sorts of different stakeholders marched behind the slogan "Tourism is Killing the City".

What Next?

On Saturday night there was a "Victory Party" at the building to express happiness and tiredness. "We're stronger at the end of this week than we were at the beginning", said one person there. The social struggle week is over. The stakeholders' proclamations have been heard, and they are going to try to keep the struggle going.

But what next?  Before closing the locks on the "Citizens' Home" they took the “Bizitza da handiena” banner off the façade. But watch out! They put another one out: "The Game Continues. See You Soon!”.


This article was translated by 11itzulpen; you can see the original in Basque here.

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Kanal hauetan artxibatua: English  |  Donostia  |  Turismo masiboa  |  Bizitza Da Handiena

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